Asian shares reverse gains on growing impact of China virus

January 23, 2020 - 3:45 am

A currency trader watches monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. Asian shares are mostly higher as health authorities around the world move to monitor and contain a deadly virus outbreak in China and keep it from spreading globally. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)


BANGKOK (AP) — World shares fell back Thursday as health authorities around the world rushed to monitor and contain a deadly virus outbreak in China and keep it from spreading globally.

China and other nations have ramped up screenings for fever on aircraft and at airports. The central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus is concentrated, closed down its train station and airport Thursday to prevent people from entering or leaving the city. Adding to concerns, the outbreak coincides with the annual travel of hundreds of millions of Chinese for the Lunar New Year festival, which begins Friday.

In early European trading, the CAC 40 in Paris lost 0.3% to 5,995.49 while Germany's DAX slipped 0.7% to 13,427.91. Britain's FTSE 100 gave up 0.2% to 7,559.27. Wall Street futures edged lower, with the contract for the S&P 500 down 1.8 points and that for the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling 0.1%.

In Asia, early gains were erased midsession, with Chinese benchmarks leading losses.

The coronavirus has been confirmed in five countries, including China, the U.S., Thailand, Japan and South Korea. So far, China has confirmed more than 500 people have fallen sick and 17 have died from the illness, which can cause pneumonia and other severe respiratory symptoms.

A World Health Organization committee was scheduled to meet for a second day Thursday as it decides whether to declare China's virus outbreak a global health emergency.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index skidded 1% to 23,795.44, while the Kospi in South Korea sank 0.9% to 2,246.13. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng dropped 1.5% to 27,909.12, while the Shanghai Composite index declined 2.8% to 2,976.53. Australia's S&P ASX/200 shed 0.6% to 7,088.00. Shares rose in India and Jakarta but fell in Taiwan and Singapore.

“As far as the market is concerned, the current reaction remains mild and perhaps rightly so given the difficulty to estimate the impact of an evolving syndrome," Jingyi Pan of IG said in a commentary. By postponing a decision on whether the virus is a global health emergency, the WHO helped assuage some fears the crisis is escalating, she said.

In other news, Japan reported Thursday that its trade balance was negative in 2019 for a second straight year, as China-U.S. trade tensions and friction with neighboring South Korea bit into exports.

Overnight, technology companies led stocks to a flat close on Wall Street, erasing early gains. But that was an improvement over Tuesday, when investors dumped shares on fears the virus outbreak might spread, hurting tourism and ultimately economic growth and corporate profits.

While only about 10% of S&P 500 companies have reported their results for the last three months of 2019, early indications are encouraging. Of those companies that have reported results, 78.4% topped analysts’ forecasts for profits, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Those forecasts were low, to be sure, with analysts saying S&P 500 profits fell last quarter for the fourth consecutive time, according to FactSet.

Benchmark crude oil fell 84 cents to $55.61 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost $1.64 to settle at $56.74 a barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude oil, the international standard, gave up 77 cents to $62.13 per barrel. It slid $1.38 to close at $63.21 a barrel overnight.

Gold fell $2.60 to $1,553.60 per ounce, silver lost 15 cents to $17.68 per ounce and copper fell 3 cents to $2.77 per pound.

The dollar fell to 109.53 Japanese yen from 109.83 yen on Wednesday. The euro weakened to $1.1085 from $1.1097.

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